We had big plans for day five of our stay in Kauai. That morning, we’d scheduled our much-anticipated scuba dive along the Poipu coast. And that afternoon, we would head to Kapa’a and our headquarters for the next few days. Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan.
We woke up early to begin packing up our room; we’d be checking out before our 11 AM dive. At 9:30, we heard from our divemaster. He had hoped conditions would improve near the coast, but, sadly, they hadn’t. In fact, they had worsened. We had to cancel our dive.
That meant that we suddenly had four hours free in the middle of our day. Since we’d already planned to leave our bags with the hotel, we left them with the bellhop upon check-out, hopped in our Jeep, and drove west to seek out Waimea Canyon.
Kauai is the fourth smallest of the main Hawaiian islands. As a result, it only took us an hour to drive from our hotel on the southeast side of the island to Waimea Canyon State Park in the northwest. We followed the beautiful southern coastline through Koloa, Hanapepe, and Waimea before turning north up the narrow highway 550 towards Waimea Canyon.
The canyon is 3,000 feet deep and approximately 10 miles long, and is known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The world waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water,” referring to the red color of the water running through the canyon, caused by the red soil.
The Hawaiian islands were formed by enormous volcanoes rising up from the bottom of the ocean. They are some of the tallest mountain ranges in the world — if you measure from the peaks to the ocean floor. Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands; the volcano that shaped it broke the surface some six million years ago. Lava flowed for another two million years until the volcano collapsed in on itself and created a depression — which began the formation of Waimea Canyon. Millions of years of rainwater and erosion weathered the basalt from volcanic black to red and developed the canyon as we see it today.
The primary access point for Waimea Canyon is easy to reach. Drive north from the town of Waimea in southwest Kauai up highway 550, a narrow highway which winds uphill into the rocky northern part of the island. About 13 miles up the road, you’ll come to the Waimea Canyon lookout point — notated by a small state park sign on the right side of the highway. There were several dozen cars parked by the roadside when we arrived in the early afternoon.
There are a few ways to explore Waimea Canyon from the lookout point. Because we had limited time to visit, we stuck to the Iliau Nature Loop, a simple 0.3-mile walk that takes you up to the edge of the canyon. You can walk the loop in about ten minutes, but I’d recommend taking your time — and lots of photographs! You’ll see some remarkable views of the canyon from this trail.
After enjoying the view and taking several dozen photographs, we drove back into Waimea to grab lunch at Island Taco. Located right off the main road to Poipu, this little taco stand may seem unremarkable. This assumption would be incorrect.